A brief introduction to this reading. Etienne Cabet formed a utopian community of French people and came to the United States to live out this communistic (in the sense of communitarian, not a Marxian sense) life. The group prospered for a while in Nauvoo, Iowa and that community is well known. Then, when that began to fail they tried a short lived adventure to Texas, and wound up in St. Louis in 1857. There is a much longer tale to tell and it will be in other essays in this section. This brief note should provide adequate background to follow this clip from Albert Shaw's book. The book is:

Shaw, Albert.  ICARIA: A CHAPTER IN THE HISTORY OF COMMUNISM.  Philadelphia: Porcupine Press Inc., 1972 (reprint of 1884 edition).

Less detailed about the Cheltenham Icarians than Hinds' later book, but seems to have influenced Hines a great deal. Useful material on the Cheltenham group. Pages 67-72. I have only a xerox copy of this work in my library.

Chapter IV.

The Cheltenham Episode

"The Icarians, one hundred and eighty in number, who had accompanied Cabet in his retreat from Nauvoo to St. Louis, had relied in everything upon their leader; and his death was a terrible blow to them. A romantic young German, Fritz Bauer, committed suicide in his grief, and the whole group were hardly less disconsolate. But, the first moment of stupor past, they took courage. They had, on October 13, 1856, before leaving Nauvoo, taken an engagement to remain faithful to Icaria and its founder; and they now resolved unanimously that the best mode of honoring the memory of their departed leader and of testifying to their faith in his principles consisted in remaining united and continuing his work.

"They installed themselves as well as they could in St. Louis, intending as soon as possible to acquire a tract of land somewhere further west for a permanent home. Meanwhile the men, who were nearly all tailors, shoemakers, or mechanics of some description, found work in the city. Explorers were sent in various directions to discover the promised land, but nothing was found which met all the condition requisite. In May, 1858, the search was given up and an estate called Cheltenham, lying six miles west of St. Louis, was purchased.

"This piece afforded some advantages as a domicile for the community. It was near the city, and the men could continue to work at their trades. It possessed a large stone house capacious enough to lodge the greater portion of the colony, besides six log-houses. Unfortunately there were only twenty-eight acres of land, and the price paid was very large -- $25,000. Further, the location was unhealthy, and the intermittent fever was as regular in its semi-annual visits as the appearance of spring-time and fall. It was much better, however, than remaining in St. Louis, crowded into several scattered houses; and it was with elation that the new home was entered on May 8, 1858.

"During the sojourn in the city a few families had withdrawn, and at the time of removal the membership was not above one hundred and fifty. This is as large a number as was ever reached at Cheltenham; for though accessions from France were made almost continually, the withdrawals were quite as numerous and constant. At once upon their removal there Icarians set about perfecting their social and industrial organization. They established work-shops of tailors, joiners, wheel-wrights, blacksmiths, painters, shoemakers, etc. All these shops, of course, did work for outsiders, in addition to supplying the Icarians themselves, and were sufficiently prosperous to furnish a comfortable support for the establishment as well as to meet the first payments on the property as they became due.

"The Cheltenham community was exceedingly active in propaganda. It had many correspondents, it published a journal and a number of books, and it maintained at Paris the Bureau which the Nauvoo majority had so bitterly condemned for its partisanship. The Bureau printed and circulated many brochures throughout France. Cabet's name and the efforts of the bureau gave the Cheltenham branch a prestige which the Nauvoo brethren lacked, and the former was recognized in France as the only original and genuine Icarian community. Thus the men and money sent to reinforce the Icarian cause were all diverted to St. Louis, and the Nauvoo people strove in vain to get a hearing in France. Many recruits were forwarded through the activity of the Bureau, and a loan opened in Paris, in 1857, produced the considerable sum of 50,000 francs among Icarian disciples.

"All now went prosperously; hope and enthusiasm reigned in Cheltenham. Schools wee opened for the boys and girls, and a "salle d'asile" -- a sort of kindergarten -- for the smallest children. The band of music and the theatre, so dear to the French heart, were not wanting. In 1858 the so-called "Cours Icarien" Was inaugurated. This was a Sunday-afternoon assembly which contributed much to the intellectual and moral well-being of the community. The programme usually consisted of select readings from the works of Cabet and other authors, recitations by the school-children, and discourses on various subjects by the more accomplished members of the community. It was a school for mutual improvement in things moral and mental. Progress was also making in the payment of the debt on the property; and thus the material as well as the moral situation was satisfactory. Still a few years of courage, union, and perseverance, and the community of Cheltenham would be in a condition to undertake, with good guaranties of success, its removal to some ampler and more suitable domain.

"But this was never to be realized. In May, 1859, the community entered upon a discussion of the social and political constitution. Two radical distinct parties were developed. The majority adhered faithfully to the latter ideas entertained by Cabet, and believed in investing very large if not absolutely dictatorial authority in some chosen leader, -- some "gerant unique" directing the moral and material affairs of the community. The minority, however, were unalterably opposed to so undemocratic a system of government. Differences of opinion degenerated into party strife; and the vanquished minority, numbering forty-two persons, left the community.

"This proved the death-blow to Cheltenham. From the date of this withdrawal the community declined in every way. Many of the most intelligent member, many of the most skillful craftsmen, were among those who withdrew, and the loss was irreparable. The depleted society struggled heroically for five years longer in spite of a series of untoward events which seemed to be in conspiracy to crush it down; and in 1864 there remained only eight "citoyens," seven "citoyennes," and some children. Thus had the number been reduced to a residue of the bravest and most persistent spirits.

"The mortgagee was pressing for payment and threatening to take the property. Funds were exhausted, and there were no available sources of revenue. The propaganda had ceased, and no more aid came from France. A last effort was still made. Two members were sent to Nebraska to find an eligible location on the public lands. But on their return the morale was so weakened, and the funds requisite to accomplish the removal were so completely lacking, that the undertaking had to be abandoned.

"It was a moment for profound sorrow for these eight families when they met for the last time in the capacity of an Icarian Assembly, to hear the President, A. Sauva [Shaw's footnote here: For the materials from which this chapter is prepared, I am entirely indebted to Mr. Sauva, who at my request wrote me out, in French, a little sketch of Cheltenham upon which the chapter is based. In several places I have rendered into English Mr. Sauva's own expressions.] formally announce the dissolution of the community. There were few words and many tears. In March, 1864, Sauva bestowed the keys upon the mortgagee, and the last Icarian left Cheltenham."

Transcribed on-line by Bob Corbett from Shaw's book
September 1999


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